Golf’s Premier Competition

Or so the banner proclaims on the European Tour’s, Race To Dubai page, announcing their season-ending Dubai World Championship at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in, Dubai, United Arab Emirates and the concurrent Race to Dubai, the year-long money title (Order of Merit).

As I pointed out in “While We Were Sleeping,” the Europeans have had a very good year in the four majors, The Players Championship (the fifth major) and the four World Golf Championships winning all but two. So while Golf’s Premier Competition might have once been a lofty goal and a little pretentious, you’d have to argue that it’s not so far off the mark anymore.

And Lee Westwood’s toppling of Tiger from the number one World Rankings (or did he topple himself?) has caused people to pay more attention to those rankings. Have you looked lately? The Europeans have seven of the top eleven spots. Only Tiger, Phil Mickelson, Steve Striker and Jim Furyk prevent the sweep.

The Dubai World Championship will settle the difference between No. 1 in the Race, Martin Kaymer, the PGA Champion and winner of three European titles this year, and No. 2 in the Race, Graeme McDowell, winner of the U.S. Open and two European titles. There is no cut in the 60-player field and their tee times are by their rankings in the Race. So it will be eyeball to eyeball to see who wins the combined $2.7 million for winning the tournament and the money title. They are the only two who have a chance with McDowell needing to win the tournament to take the money title away from Kaymer.

The broader issue coming out of all of this hoopla on the other side of the world is just how much of a psychological impact this will have on the PGA Tour. Players on the U.S. Tour have always been able to take pride in the fact that they were the best. It was an insular existence that welcomed European players when they showed up to play and, like a big brother, sportingly patted them on the back when they limped back home in defeat. After this year’s defeats in the majors, that’s not happening anymore, recent years’ competitiveness in the Ryder Cup playing a part in this new repect too.

So while the U.S. players continue to while away in the financially lush world of the PGA Tour, the Europeans continue the charge up the hill like a basketball team coming from behind with all the world roaring for them. Will there come a time when the Americans will begin to look over their shoulders? Will the continued success of the Europeans begin to erode the underpinnings of the Americans’ self-concept and ultimately, their confidence? When you know you’re better, it’s easier to win; not easy, easier. Just look at what Tiger did.  But if they begin to doubt, could they be overrun?

All of this depends, of course, on how much stock you put in the World Rankings. There is some criticism of the ranking system, but Lee Westwood taking away the No. 1 World Ranking from Tiger was a big deal, perhaps even, the beginning crack in the dam, notwithstanding those flaws. And he followed it up with an impressive 2nd place finish at the WGC in Shanghai, finishing in another orbit one stroke behind Franscesco Molinari.

On the other hand, Alistair Tait, writing at golfweek.com, pointed to some of the problems the European Tour is having attracting quality players to lesser tournaments. The Tour has finally banned appearance money, but it still gets back-doored in order to get a decent field. Is that a product the American players need to be wary of? Or do they just continue to play on their comfortably-domestic, financially-sound tour and the World Rankings be damned? That’s what masters would do.

I wish the Europeans a smashing success with an exciting finish this week, but I’m going with Door #2. For now.

The live broadcast begins on the Golf Channel at 3 AM (Eastern) and rebroadcasts at 10:00 AM and 8:30 PM. It’s a big deal.

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